The season may be ripe for a scare, but scary things are happening in your front yard already as the holiday approaches.
The reality of the deep darkness of a fire ant mound, hidden to human eyes, or the mole crickets tunnels, where only creepy insects dare enter may be hard to believe.
UF/IFAS and USDA introduced a tiny South American fly to the U.S. to help control the pesky imported fire ant. Literally, these introduced phorid flies cause the imported fire ants’ heads to fall off. They then use the decapitated heads to reproduce.
The flies hover above the ants, dive in, latch onto the ant’s body and inject their eggs.
The egg then hatches, and a maggot wiggles its way into an ant’s head, where it will grow for two or three weeks before secreting a chemical that dissolves the membranes that hold the ant’s body together.
In a few hours, the ant’s head falls off, and the maggot eats everything in it and uses it as a pupae case.
Assassin bugs are frequently seen slowly crawling on shrubs in our landscapes. Most are brown to black but many are brightly colored. A common species is reddish orange in the nymph stage. Assassin bugs feed on many harmful insects. Caterpillars are their favorite food.
They digest their prey before actually eating it, and they do this by piercing their victim with their sharp peak, and injecting digestive enzymes. This causes damage to the insect’s nervous system and liquefies it’s internal organs.
The larra wasp, an introduced predatory insect by UF/IFAS entomologists, enters a mole cricket tunnel. The female wasp will pounce on the mole cricket, wrestle with it and sting it on its soft underside.
This immobilizes the mole cricket long enough to allow the wasp to deposit a single egg on its underside. The mole cricket recovers and burrows back into the ground. The wasp larva eventually hatches and slowly eats the mole cricket alive.
And as horrible as these insects may sound, remember that these truly creepy crawlies are beneficial, and help gardeners battle the bad bugs all year round.